Ramblin' Rhodes

Stroll down memory lane with music columnist Don Rhodes.

Ramblin' Rhodes: Shag has strong footing in Augusta

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During Fourth of July celebrations, there will be a lot of shag dance music blaring from bands not only along the coast of the Carolinas but also far inland as well, according to author Tom Poland, who was born in Augusta and grew up in Lincolnton, Ga.

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"Save The Last Dance For Me: A Love Story of the Shag and the Society of Stranders" was written by Tom Poland, an Augusta native, with Phil Sawyer.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
"Save The Last Dance For Me: A Love Story of the Shag and the Society of Stranders" was written by Tom Poland, an Augusta native, with Phil Sawyer.

“There are 99 beach music clubs as far up as Pittsburgh, Pa., and going into Alabama and Florida,” Poland said earlier this week by phone.

“When the older shaggers moved inland, they took their music with them,” Poland added. “And beach music lovers who can’t get to a beach on the Fourth of July play it on the Fourth and other occasions. The coast always will be the heartland of beach music, but people have taken it far and wide.”

Poland knows what he is talking about because the University of South Carolina journalism professor is the author of Save The Last Dance For Me: A Love Story of the Shag and the Society of Stranders, written with technical adviser Phil Sawyer and published last year.

Sawyer, a retired educator from Salley, is the president of the Society of Stranders, an organization that grew out of the “Grand Strand” music scene stretching from north of Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Georgetown, S.C.

Beach music and ’60s classic rock records are played regularly on WKSX-FM in nearby Johnston, S.C., and Atlanta author Greg Haynes notes in his 2008 book, The Heeey Baby Days of Beach Music, that Augusta-area bands have contributed a lot to the beach music scene.

“If there are any two Meccas that produced the most beach bands of the best quality, it was Augusta and Burlington, N.C.,” Haynes wrote.

Just a few of the bands he named from the Augusta area include The Georgia Prophets with Roy Smith and Billy Scott; The Oxford Nights with Jack and Ben Barnard; The Oxfords; The Soul Seekers; The Intruders with Archie Jordan; Mike Stewart and Stewart Harris; The Blue Notes; The Pallbearers with George Croft; The Features Four with Sammy O’Banion and also The Celestials and The Red Hots (both bands with Johnny Hensley).

Hensley, in fact, is the host of the weekly Shag City show at 10 p.m. Thursdays and 3 p.m Saturdays on cable TV. You can learn more about it at johnnyhensleyshagcity.com.

Formally organized shag music clubs exist all over under the banner of the Association of Carolina Shag Clubs, which fused with the Society of Stranders in the mid-1980s.

To contact the club in the Augusta area call Rodney Williams at (803) 279-5666 or e-mail him at rodney.williams03@comcast.net.

Haynes’ book focuses on the hundreds of bands that have played beach music and related mellow sounds.

Poland and Sawyer’s book deals more with:

• the evolvement of the music from dances like The Charleston, The Lindy Hop, The Jitterbug and The Big Apple;

• famous beach music clubs in South Carolina;

• beach music bridging white and black gaps among youths in the segregated South in the 1950s and ’60s;

• individual well-known dancers who developed followings and captivated the floors; and

• the creation and popularity of the Shag shuffle dance itself.

“The first time I can remember going to a beach was when my mom and dad took me to Tybee Island near Savannah when I was about 7 or 8,” said Poland, whose biggest and closest body of water growing up was Clarks Hill Lake (now Thurmond Lake).

“The first time I saw Myrtle Beach was around 1959, after beach music had seen its peak,” he added, “but it still had some glory days.”

Poland contends that the two years that hurt beach music and the shag itself the most were 1954, when Hurricane Hazel destroyed a lot of the dance pavilions and commercial real estate took over the land for other developments, and 1956, when Elvis and rock and roll started taking over youthful music tastes.

It took Poland three years to write his seventh book. Novelist and poet James Dickey, also a University of South Carolina professor, wrote the foreword for Poland’s first book, South Carolina – The Natural Heritage, published in 1989.

Poland played football for Lincolnton High School from 1963 to the fall of 1966 before getting a degree in journalism at the University of Georgia.

“I have great memories of growing up listening to WBBQ radio in Augusta and hearing what I later learned was beach music,” he said. “I didn’t know it was called beach music then.

“I was so close to Georgia (UGA) and going from Lincolnton to Georgia was such a tough adjustment, that me and my friends would come home often and go to the National Guard Armory in Augusta to see Percy Sledge and The Tams and other acts like that.”

And, just for the record, Poland said that he can’t do the shag, even though he can tell you just about everything about it and its performers.

“That’s who saved the shag all of these years,” he said. “These groups of people who were the pioneers of the shag became institutionalized with the music in their teen years and wouldn’t let go of it,” he said.

“When the British Invasion came in the ’60s with The Beatles and Rolling Stones and others, beach music went on the back burner for a while. But these pioneers kept it alive in Atlanta and Charlotte and Fayetteville, N.C., because they missed that era of their teen years.”

GEORGIA DAY ENTERTAINERS WANTED: The Georgia Visitors Center on Interstate 20 at the Savannah River is looking for entertainers for Georgia Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, July 12. There is no money in it, but you get exposure to travelers and dozens of local people who get free food, tourism merchandise (key chains, etc.) and other stuff. Tourism and business groups also will have booths. Call Center Manager Keri Ogletree at (706) 737-1446 or e-mail kogletree@georgia.org.


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